John Compisi is an online wine writer, lives in northern Sonoma County with his wife Linda, and visits Mendocino County often.

John was invited by Consortium Mendocino to sit in on the winemaker blending trials for the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines.

John produced a four part series of stories from the experience, and here are links to those four stories: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

John is a friend, a good writer, and I am happy to share links to his stories about Mendocino County’s flagship wine, Coro, and help spread the word about these wines.

Enjoy!

Recently, Sip! Mendocino in Hopland played host for the release of the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, the uniquely Mendocino Zinfandel-centric cooperative wine program, with the 2012 Coro Mendocino blends of Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Vineyards, McFadden Farm, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards each being unveiled.

2012 was a terrific vintage for reds, a warmer than average year, with near perfect growing conditions, yielding richly flavorful wines. Each winery produced their own version of Coro, with notes from each of the participating winemakers during pre-bottling blind barrel tastings to guide them.

If there was a ‘typical’ Coro in 2012, which there wasn’t, it would have been made with 50 percent Zinfandel, 17 percent Petite Sirah, 16 percent Syrah, 6 percent Carignane, 4 percent Primitivo, 3 percent Charbono, 2 percent Barbera, 1 percent Grenache, and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend — that’s what I get when I averaged the components for each of the eight wines poured at Sip.

All of the wines were tasty, with the stellar fruit of 2012 showing well. Each individual winery will sell their wines at about $40 through their tasting rooms, and all eight will be available for purchase at Sip in Hopland, beginning in the next week or so. Look for the Coro wines grown organically to show up at the Ukiah Co-op soon.

McFadden will release the 2012 Coro at their Annual Farm Party on Saturday, July 11 (call 744-8463 for tickets), and each of the other seven wineries will find the right time and way to release their new wine. When you see them, taste them, you’ll enjoy each.
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One of the folks I work with invited me to join her large family on the coast for a camping weekend, which allowed me the opportunity to see some of our county’s more rural, and beautiful, areas; that, and I got to enjoy lots of delicious authentic Mexican food, paired with McFadden’s Late Harvest Riesling, 2011 Coro and award winning Sparkling Cuvee Brut. Thank you to Juanita Plaza and all of her family for making me feel so welcome.

While on the coast, I visited Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery, located on the west side of Highway 1, 12 miles north of Fort Bragg at the 73.58 milepost. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Star is a popular destination for tourists visiting Mendocino’s coast.

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

When I visited, Holly poured me six wines for a $5 tasting fee. The glassware was INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine). The egg shape bowl of INAO glassware is designed to fully enhance the concentration of aroma and allow the wine to be swirled without spilling. Noted wine critic Robert Parker called INAO glasses, “The finest inexpensive tasting glass in the world,” and I was pleased to taste from them.

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

First up was the 2013 Pacific Star Orange Muscat, a sweeter, but not too sweet at less than 1 percent residual sugar, white wine. An apricot and floral nose gives way to a mouth of ripe stone fruit, herb, and mown hay.

Sally holds her white wines in stainless steel, rather than oak, for brighter fruit expression, and many of the wines are poured through an aerator to further accentuate the fruit notes.

2012 Pacific Star Viognier — grassy peach and pear with a touch of astringency

In 2006, Sally found there were fault lines under the property, and that was the inspiration for Pacific Star’s NV It’s My Fault, a non vintage red wine, made from a “secret blend” of six varieties. Sally used to make a Coro wine, so this is like that…sort of.

The nose gave up notes of raspberry, cola, herb, cherry, blackberry, mint and light oak. The tannins were a little tight, the oak was evident, and there were sweet tart black cherry, raspberry and darker berry notes in the mouth taste.

2012 Pacific Star Tempranillo, with fruit from Lake County, chocolaty, blueberry, and blackberry, with supple tannin, was really nicely balanced, and had good mouthfeel.

Holly told me that Charbono was Sally’s flagship wine, and the grapes came from Eddie Graziano’s farm in Calpella.

2012 Pacific Star Charbono — Really lovely wine nose of deep full multi-noted blackberry, cassis, oak, and dusty cocoa earthiness. The mouth showed medium firm tannin, and there was plenty of aging potential for this wine. I picked up berry fruit, earthiness, leather, and tart blackberry.

2012 Pacific Star Cabernet Sauvignon — I picked up slightly greener, more vegetal, vinous notes with herb supporting a nose of raspberry and blackberry fruit, and a mouth of bright, slightly tart blackberry.

On the coast, Pacific Star Winery is a lovely place to visit, taste wine and enjoy a picnic lunch. Don’t fret if you show up without food, as there are packages of meats, cheeses and crackers available for purchase in the tasting room.
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I finished up my weekend with a visit to see Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery to pick up a bottle of their two-year Rye Whiskey as a gift for my stepfather. While there, I sampled the latest barrel sample of the Bourbon, cut from last tasting’s 60 percent alcohol to 41 percent with collected rain water, and it tasted great. I also tasted their son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac, and ended up buying a bottle for myself.

In 1838, the first cocktail was created in New Orleans featuring French brandy and Peychaud bitters, and by 1850, that first cocktail, the Sazerac, had achieved popularity. Over the years, the recipe has been tweaked, with the addition of absinthe and sugar, and American rye whiskey replacing French brandy.

I love Devin’s 1850, and I love the absinthe ice cream that Crispin and Tamar make for events, but I don’t like absinthe. Crispin told me that similarly most folks would not drink straight vanilla, but enjoy vanilla ice cream, as both vanilla and absinthe are powerfully flavorful on their own. Thanks for helping me understand my own confusing and seemingly contradictory tasting experience.
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Devin, like his father, worked at Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy and learned the art and science of distilling there before making use of that knowledge to craft the craft whiskeys, gins, vodkas, liqueurs, absinthe and bourbon I have enthused about here previously.

Devin’s version of the 1850 cocktail, or Sazerac, is informed by his time with Alambic, tasting aged and new brandies, and noting their differences; Devin’s 1850 Cocktail is made from newer brandy aged and colored by French oak barrels, made more flavorful by infusion of sassafras, vanilla, dried fruit, and other exotica, and clear wheat whiskey instead of the rye I expected, plus absinthe in a 1 part per 500 parts ratio.

Creating each individual element, and then finding the perfect blend of those elements, involved nearly 100 tasting trials over the course of a full year, but that level of attention to detail is something that I have come to expect, and appreciate, from everything coming out of the family’s American Craft Whiskey Distillery.

This is a perfect cocktail, a whole glorious bottle of perfectly blended cocktails, and an improvement on the standard Sazerac, bringing a welcome memory of my last New Orleans visit home to Ukiah.

John on Wine – The Last Supper

This piece ran today, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper, but likely with a few selected photographs. This online archive is richer for the photographic contributions of Bryan Elhardt and Tom Liden; thank you both. -John

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

Genesis: In the beginning, April 20, 2013, Chef Jesse Elhardt created a menu to pair with Greg Graziano’s wines for a wine club dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse; Jesse said, “Let there be food”; and there was food, and Jesse saw that the food was good.

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Chef Jesse Elhardt’s last dinner cooking at Crush Ukiah was the Chef’s Winemakers Dinner featuring Graziano Family of Wines (photograph by John Cesano)

From that dinner, the Chef’s Winemaker Dinner series at Crush was born, and begot nights that featured Chef Jesse’s food creations paired with the wines of Saracina (July 2013), Barra of Mendocino and Girasole (August 2013), Bonterra (November 2013), 2010 Coro Mendocino (December 2013), Yorkville Cellars (April 2014), Cesar Toxqui Cellars (November 2014), McFadden Farm (January 2015), 2011 Coro Mendocino (February 2015), and finally ending where he began, with a Chef’s Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines on May 20, 2015 and Greg and Trudi Graziano. Chef Jesse also squeezed in a sold out wine club only dinner for McNab Ridge earlier that week.

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Graziano Family of Wines dinner was the last supper Chef Jesse would cook at Crush in Ukiah. Jesse will continue with Crush, in Chico and San Diego for a short while before embarking on a 2,600 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Jesse’s parents, Bryan and Lynne Jackson Elhardt, and Crush owners Doug and Debbie Guillon attended this very special wine & food event.

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

The incredibly fortunate attendees met in the bar area to enjoy winemaker Greg Graziano’s 2010 St. Gregory Cuvee Trudi (named for his wife) Brut Rose, paired with both a wonton cup filled with Prawn & Scallop Ceviche, with saffron, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cucumber & parsley; and Fried Colossal Olives stuffed with a mixture of cooked Italian sausage, ricotta, and Gorgonzola, soaked in buttermilk then coated with flour, semolina, and ground risotto, which were incredibly delicious, with a meaty, nutty texture, and a brine saltiness that bordered on addictive, and paired brilliantly with Greg’s phenomenally delicious sparkler, my favorite of all he has yet released.

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The amazing fried colossal olives and Greg’s equally amazing sparkling brut rose (photograph by John Cesano)

Restaurant manager Kevin Kostoff shepherded the diners into the banquet room to find seats, and then welcomed all assembled to a very special evening, introducing our servers Ben & John, beverage manner Nick Karavas, and owners Doug and Debbie, before turning things over to Jesse, who upon announcing, “this will be my last wine dinner in Ukiah,” was greeted with crying and gnashing of teeth.

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Jesse took bread, gave thanks to Greg and Trudi, and broke the bread, gave it to the patrons, and said, “Take this, all of you, and dip it in Greg’s organic olive oil.”

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

The first course paired Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with white bean puree, Neuske Applewood smoke lardon, tempura brownbutter caper berry, and chive stick; Insalata Mista with gem lettuce, arugula, grilled radicchio, marinated heirloom tomato, cucumber, marinated artichoke, and red onion; and Bacala All’Amalfitana four day saffron constantly changed water soak, salt cod mini cakes with Yukon gold, housemade bread crumb, lemon aioli, and parsley oil; with Greg and Trudi’s 2013 Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio from 20 acres of Potter Valley vineyards, 100% fermented in neutral French oak barrels, made in the style of the great wines of Friuli.

Insalata Mista - mixed salad (Photograph by Tom Liden)

Insalata Mista – mixed salad (photograph by Tom Liden)

The second course was where Jesse performed his miracle with the fishes. Roasted Snake River Farms Pork Belly and Pork Shoulder Ragu on top of brown butter and aromatics ‘giant’ gnocchi with a reduced Reggiano cream, fried frico cheese for texture, and micro arugula to pair with Greg’s 2011 Enotria Barbera; and a Cedar Plank Wild Scottish Salmon, four pepper spice crusted, with a Petite Sirah reduction, porcini dust, morel, white asparagus, and hazelnut to pair with Greg’s 2011 Graziano Petite Sirah. Also served were Parslied New Creamer Potatoes with roasted red and yellow peppers, coppa, and baby peeled clip top carrots bathed in butter; and Triple Creamed Corn, of corn stock, corn pudding, corn kernel, chipotle compound butter, and micro cilantro.

Cedar Plank Salad, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (Photograph by John Cesano)

Cedar Plank Salmon, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (photograph by John Cesano)

Let me draw your attention to the miracle: Jesse paired fish with Petite Sirah, and pulled it of magnificently. Petite Sirah is big red wine. Fish is fish, and easily overpowered by big reds, but Jesse added layers of flavor to his Salmon, cooking it on a cedar plank, crusting it in four crushed peppers, glazed it in a reduction of Greg’s Petite Sirah with a touch of dried porcini mushroom dust, and then adding earthy morel mushrooms. The morels by themselves would have been a dish I would happily have enjoyed, and would order if on the menu; sautéed with white asparagus and toasted hazelnuts in butter, with salt and pepper. Building up the salmon, fortifying it, allowed it to pair brilliantly with Greg’s Petite Sirah.

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (Photograph by Tom Liden)

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

When supper was ended, before dessert was served, Jesse took a wineglass with 2011 Monte Volpe Tocai Friulano, Late Harvest Dolce Alexandra; again he gave thanks and praise; thanks to winemaker Greg and Greg’s wife Trudi Graziano, his parents Lynne and Bryan, and owners Doug and Debbie; and praise to the entire team of cooks and Crush’s new head chef Steve Lorenz, and then raised his glass, which was met by the crowd in a toast.

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (Photograph by Tom Liden)

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (photograph by Tom Liden)

Dessert was Monte Volpe Olive Oil Cake, apricot-currant compote, and a fresh ginger gelato with toasted almond crumb that Jesse said he was, “really excited about.” The cake, made from Greg’s olive oil, helped absorb some of the sweetness of his 43% residual sugar late harvest wine, while the fruit compote helped tie the two together. The gelato was a wonderfully delicious bonus, a last gift from Jesse to the fortunate witnesses to his last supper.

I have been fortunate, and have attended every one of Chef Jesse’s winemaker dinners for the public at Crush in Ukiah. While no one is irreplaceable, Jesse brought a high degree of creativity and passion to each dinner, producing different hand made pasta dishes, making uniquely different but always rich ragu sauces, turning ordinary vegetables into entree worthy dishes, and presenting playful and delicious desserts, always allowing the food to showcase the qualities of the wines they would be paired with. Jesse Elhardt is a talent that Ukiah will miss, but we all wish him the best in his new adventures to come.

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John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org

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John On Wine – Coro, Crush, Coro and Crush

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, Coro Mendocino, Crush, Coro, sometimes it seems that I am writing my column about one or the other with a frequency that squeezes other worthy subjects out. There are other great restaurants in Ukiah; Patrona, Ritual, and Oco Time come immediately to mind; but Crush is uniquely suited to host spectacular chef’s wine dinners, with their private dining room and top notch kitchen and front of house team. Anderson Valley is well known as a place where premium Pinot Noir and Alsatian variety white wines are born; inland Mendocino grows some terrific Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varieties; but Coro Mendocino is the county’s flagship wine, and the cooperative element to the program has me writing about these Zinfandel-centric blends made by different great winemakers with deserved prevalence.

Guinness McFadden makes a Coro wine and, fortunately for me, he was overwhelmed with meetings and sent me to sit with the Coro winemakers to taste barrel samples of the 2013 Coro wines being produced by Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, Graziano, Parducci, Testa, and, of course, McFadden, on March 18.

I tasted through the wines in January, for the second of four blind tastings, with the winemakers, each giving notes of unvarnished constructive criticism on each wine, so adjustments could be made. I tasted them again yesterday, for the third group Coro winemaker blind tasting, and the tweaks made in the intervening two months had every one of the wines positively singing. As an example, Guinness reduced the blend of his wine from 70% Zinfandel to 67%, and increased the Syrah in his blend from 20% to 23%, with the remaining 10% unchanged and given over to Petite Sirah. That small change improved the wine remarkably, providing balance and integration.

Doubly fortunate, I was also able to blind taste the finished, bottled, but not yet released, 2012 vintage Coro wines, to help judge their weight, in advance of the multi course 2012 vintage Coro Release Party at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco on June 19 (tickets would make a perfect Father’s Day Gift). Again, the wines of Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, Ray’s Station, and Testa all tasted wonderful, each their own unique wine, and vintage different from the just tasted 2013 Coro wines.

Triply fortunate, that same evening, I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring incredible dishes prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team, and the lineup of 2011 vintage Coro wines.

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

The evening started off with passed Gazpacho Shooters of San Marzano (the best) tomato, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Malden salt; which were the best gazpacho I have ever tasted, and paired perfectly with the McFadden Sparkling Cuvee Brut.

After the ‘meet & greet’ appetizers, the lucky 70 attendees at the sold out dinner moved into the private dining room and took seats. Four Coro wineglasses, appetizer, and main course plates were in place, and the first course wines were poured, all 2011 vintage Coro wines, from McFadden, Parducci, Clos du Bois, and Testa. These four ‘lighter’ 2011 Coro wines were substantial, as was the food from the kitchen: Crush Antipasto with four assorted cured meats, four assorted cheeses, cornichons, olives, peppers, crostini, olive oil, and course mustard; Spicy Lamb Balls with Calabrian chili from Italy, romesco with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, feta, mint, and micro basil; and Seared Day Boat Scallops with a rosemary fig jam, bacon couscous, and a baby kale salad topped with white Champagne vinaigrette.

I Love the lamb meatballs, they were incredibly flavorful, and paired beautifully with sips of each of the four Coro wines from the flight. One of the cheeses, a Parmigiano-Reggiano, also was a particular delight when paired with the wines. The scallops, fresh from San Francisco the day before, was a spectacular dish, but honestly would have paired better with the lighter ‘meet & greet’ wines served earlier, as the Coro wines overpowered the delicious but delicate flavors of the dish for me, but easily resolved as I just ate the scallop without the wine, and loved them.

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

First plate cleared, wines dumped, new wines were poured, the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao, Barra, Fetzer, and Golden, and the second food course to impress was brought out; Roasted Whole Filet Tenderloin with spiced crust, roasted mushrooms, a board sauce, and red wine demi-glace; One Hundred Layer Lasagna of fresh pasta, ten hour ragu, béchamel, tomato, reggiano, and fresh herb; Roasted Zucchini Ribbons with garlic chip, basil pesto, cherry tomato confit, and olive oil; and Potato au Dauphinoise with herb infused cream and cheddar bread crumb.

Sips of each of the five wines, I held onto some McFadden Coro, with bites of each food creation, were spectacular. The tender tenderloin of certified Angus beef, a perfect medium rare, cooked in butter, with a peppercorn medley crust was as good as meat gets; The lasagna was 100 layers of red, white, and green, representing the colors of the Italian flag, with the Bolognese ragu providing the red, béchamel bringing the white, and every third layer made from a basil infused pasta for the green; the roasted zucchini ribbons were delicious and provided a bright note for the second course; with the potatoes, made from a 1906 recipe, featuring sliced potatoes infused overnight in an herb cream, a must have seconds dish for me.

Dessert was a Flourless Valrhona Chocolate Cake served with house made toasted almond gelato, chocolate crumb, and spun sugar; and paired with a choice of McFadden Late Harvest Riesling or Brutocao, Dunnewood, or Parducci port. This might just be the best dessert I have tasted at Crush yet. I went with the Riesling, which paired perfectly, once again, with Jesse’s food.

All of the night’s wines were wonderful, and there was quite a bit of talk about how good the 2011 vintage Coro showed. Initially thought a ‘weak’ vintage, every Coro was a stellar food wine, and a testament to each winemaker’s skills and a great showing for the Coro program. Without exception, the 2011 Coro wines were delicious, lovely, and showed great finesse, balance, and flavor, each showing differently that intensity of flavor is not limited to over oaked, high alcohol, fruit jamb bombs. These were elegant wines, all.

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Graziano, and will be held on Wednesday, May 20; for tickets call (707) 463-0700.

The next Coro dinner will be on Friday, June 19, at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, when the 2012 vintage Coro Mendocino wines are released. Tickets are $700 per couple, and include a gourmet multi course meal, paired with all eight new Coro wines, and each ticket includes the full collection of 2012 vintage Coro wines to take home. There will also be complimentary valet parking for the dinner, which in San Francisco is a huge bonus. For tickets, call Sip! Mendocino in Hopland at (707) 744-8375, and tell them you want to sit at a McFadden table if you would like to hear Guinness tell a five minute story about an Irish priest and a bike, or be less than dazzled by stupid magic tricks by me. Seriously, I have attended two of these dinners and they are the best wine dinner events you can attend, if you love red wine or Mendocino County. With Father’s Day falling on June 21 this year, tickets to this June 19 dinner really are a perfect gift for any wine loving dads.

It isn’t every day that you get to taste a lineup of an entire Coro vintage, doing so with a great dinner makes it all the better experience. Getting to taste three entire vintages in a day, 24 great wines in all, pretty much makes me the most fortunate tasting room manager and wine writer in California.

Jeriko Estate is on Highway 101 just one mile north of Hopland. (John Cesano)

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John On Wine – Spotlight winery: Jeriko Estate

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

In the year 2000, when I worked for the largest publisher of wine books and distributor of wine accessories in the industry, and visited wineries and winery tasting rooms in 42 California counties, I first visited Jeriko Estate on Highway 101 just one mile north of Hopland and I was impressed by the large, gorgeous, Tuscan styled stunner of a property.

I have visited Jeriko Estate many times in the intervening 15 years, most recently to taste through all of the wines with tasting room manager Adam Spencer, on a spectacular summer-like day offered up a full month before the first day of spring.

The estate vineyards and tasting room grounds were breathtakingly beautiful, blue skies painted with wispy white stratus clouds, colorful cover crops of green favas and yellow mustard growing between rows of perfectly pruned vines, gnarled old olive trees, purple flags moving in the light breeze, immaculately trimmed lawns separated by raked crushed stone earthen pathways, the sound of water dripping from a fountain into a circular pool, birds chirping, the red tile roofed and pale sienna colored building, a large patio available for a picnic with a glass or two of wine; Jeriko Estate exists to engage the senses.

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The Jeriko Estate fountain and vineyard. (John Cesano)

 

The tasting room is large, with a bar and comfortable backed stools, cushy couches, high tables with stools, fireplace, large screen television for sporting events, an enormous glass wall offering a view of the barrel room, and a stone floor laid by owner Danny Fetzer. Adam shared that Danny also did the welding for the glass wall that separates the tasting and barrel rooms.

I took a seat at the bar, pulled out my notebook, and tasted through all of the current releases with Adam, dressed comfortably in the manner of all of the Hopland area male tasting room managers — I met Adam at an event last fall where we wore identical uniforms for pouring; untucked plaid shirt over cargo shorts with tennis shoes and a ball cap.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Musque Clone, Mendocino, Made with Biodynamic Grapes, $28 — nose of white peach, pear, apricot, grass, mint and melon lead to flavors of pear, citrusy grapefruit and a touch of herb.

Danny is a biodynamic farmer, growing organically and bio-diversely, in a land friendly fashion. I prefer organic and biodynamic wines, wine quality being equal, over conventionally grown wines with Monsanto Round Up and other poisons involved.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Chardonnay, Upper Russian River, Mendocino, $25 — nose of cream, light oak, and clove spice give way to a mouth of apple and tropical fruit, lemon zest, and shows light, bright, lively acid.

•2013 Jeriko Estate Chardonnay, Anima Mundi, Mendocino, $30 — Clear light oak, lush bright green apple hard candy, with crisp acidity. Anima Mundi translates “soul of the earth” and will replace both Dijon clone and Pommard clone on Jeriko’s labels, due to a French protest of the use of the names Dijon and Pommard on American wine labels, explained Adam — a ridiculous protest as the reference had been to a particular vine and not the wine’s place of origin.

•2013 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir Rose, Upper Russian River, $20 — strawberry, rose petal, light dried herb blend; delicate, direct, delightful.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Upper Russian River, Mendocino, $30 — Brambly briar, rose petal, and cherry.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Anima Mundi, Mendocino, $40 — primarily Pommard clone with a little Dijon clone. Bright candied cherry, cocoa. Lush, layered. love it.

•2011 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone, Mendocino, $64 — Really lovely. Light tight tannin, deep layered, multi noted, great mouth feel, warm cherry, dusty cocoa, currant, light spice, integrated, with a long lingering fruit finish.

•2012 Jeriko Estate Sangiovese, Anima Mundi, Mendocino, $32 — chocolate covered cherry and blackberry. The perfect wine to end this tasting on, and absolute ‘must taste,’ a perfect wine, showing great balance between fruit and acid.

The best way to find out more about Jeriko Estate is to bring a picnic lunch, belly up to the bar for a wine tasting, and buy a glass or bottle of your favorite wine and enjoy it at an outside table with a vineyard view; alternately, you can visit http://www.jerikoestate.com or call (707) 744-1140 for more information.
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Coro Dinner at Crush in Ukiah

On Wednesday, March 18 — that’s next Wednesday, the winemakers of the 2011 vintage of Coro Mendocino, the county’s flagship wine, a red blend leaning heavily on Zinfandel, will pour their wines at a Chef’s Wine Dinner prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah.

Producers of 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines include Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois Winery, Fetzer Vineyards, Golden Vineyards, McFadden Farm & Vineyard, Parducci Wine Cellars, and Testa Vineyards.

I have written with great enthusiasm about previous Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush, there may be no better way to taste local wines than with great local foods, surrounded by friends, new and old, at a family style sumptuous feast prepared by Crush.

For more information, or to reserve your seats, contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700.

ADDED FOR ONLINE VERSION: I have to thank Kevin Kostoff, manager of Crush in Ukiah, who could not have been more gracious in securing a seat for me at next Wednesday’s dinner.

My son Charlie will be turning 18 next Wednesday, his birthday the same day as the Crush Coro Dinner, and I chose my son over continuing my unbroken string of Chef’s Wine Dinners.

Kevin reached out to me as tickets were selling quickly, and asked if I would be attending, letting me know he was holding my spot, assuming correctly that I would want to attend.

While I wanted to attend, I let him know about the conflict and that I couldn’t.

Has anyone else ever experienced the phenomenon where an older teen would rather spend time with friends than parents? Yeah, me too. Told of a birthday party being put together by his friends, I headed to Crush only to find the dinner was sold out, but was offered the first spot on the wait list.

Within two days, Kevin let me know – incredibly kindly – that there is always a spot for me. I went in and and paid for my ticket right away.

While there, I saw Chef Jesse, and he gave me an advance copy of the menu – which looks great!

I wrote this piece weeks ago, and although it ran in today’s paper, tickets are pretty much sold out now. Still, call and ask, because cancellations happen, and getting on the wait list and crossing your fingers is a good idea.

The other thing I’ll note: the folks at Crush did an amazing job for McFadden when they featured our wines in January during the county’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest, but this will be so much more enjoyable because there is no real work aspect for this dinner; I just get to show up and enjoy great food and wine with friends.

Thank you to everyone at Crush for being so terrific. Cheers!

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John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Brutocao Cellars

Originally published on Thursday, February 12, 2015 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

I like pretty much everyone in the wine industry, but some folks stand out as favorites, and Hoss Milone, the winemaker for Brutocao Cellars in Hopland, is definitely one of those. Competency without crushing seriousness, affable, likeable, even irreverent at times; when crafting wines, Hoss is all business, making wines that are big, deep, possessed of weight and intensity.

We met at the Brutocao tasting room in Hopland at the Schoolhouse Plaza (Brutocao has another tasting room in the Anderson Valley), and Hoss poured me through his current releases, ably assisted by tasting room host Monica Almond.

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First up was the 2013 Brutocao Chardonnay, Hopland Ranches, $17. In a world of Chardonnay trending leaner and unoaked, this was a weighty wine, 100% barrel fermentation and 100% malolactic fermentation. Barrel fermentation means a wine was made in the barrel, malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that converts malic acid green apple and tart notes to lactic acid cream and butter flavors. I picked up lemon citrus, and tropical banana notes, plus a warmer apple. Hoss told me the wine spent nine months in barrel, and had a sur lie stir every couple of weeks. Sur lie is French for “on lees’ and lees are the spent yeasts after they have converted sugar into alcohol, heat and co2. Holding a wine sul lie can add a textural mouth feel richness, and create a deeper wine flavor profile.

Regarding his Chardonnay, Hoss shared it is made from “five blocks, each subdivided, and different oaks [for the barrels], one to two different yeasts, a spice rack [for blending] fruit and mouth feel.”

Next was the 2012 Brutocao Reserve Chardonnay, Estate Bottled, $25. With over one year barrel time, and made, “primarily out of Dijon clones,” this was surprisingly delicate, clean, lovely, and showing lots of apple, pear, vanilla, and caramel.

Hoss told me that the Brutocao Sauvignon Blanc has sold out, and a new one, plus a new Rosé, would be out this spring.

Red wine time, and the list is lengthy.

2010 Brutocao Reserve Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $38. Classic Pinot notes, on a weighty wine, deep cherry cola, forest funk, oak, raisin, herb, licorice. Two years in barrel.

2010 Brutocao Quadriga, Hopland Ranches, $24. A Quadriga is a Roman chariot drawn by four horses, and this chariot’s four Italian horses are Sangiovese, Primitivo, Barberra, and Dolcetto. Darker herb, multi noted, fruit basket, cherry, plum, violet, orange, more cherry, blueberry, raspberry, oh, did I say cherry already? Hoss told me, “Sangiovese is the glue that holds the other varietals together.”

2010 Brutocao Primitivo, Contento Vineyard, $24. Spice, but not peppery, lighter raspberry fruit nose, nice mouthfeel, a little weightier in the mouth with darker raspberry and cassis. “American oak works with Zinfandel, but [although DNA Identical] Primitivo hates it,” Hoss explained, pointing out differences between the two varieties.

2010 Brutocao Zinfandel, Hopland Ranches, $24. The bottle says Zinfandel, but could accurately say Zinfandels, as Hoss said there were, “two vineyards, each split north and south, and three to six yeasts, then differing oak regimens; many notes for blending,” the many resultant Zinfandels into this one Zinfandel. Deeper styled, pepper, leaning to raspberry, oak, cherry, and nuanced rather than a two by four to the head.

The 2009 Brutocao Reserve Merlot is sold out. Hoss said of the reserve wines, “many are available only at the tasting rooms, and still sell out too soon.” In place of the 2009, Hoss poured an early taste of the 2011 Merlot with grapes off the Bliss Vineyard. The grapes were picked the third week of September, well before rains fell in the first week of October that year. This was a really drinkable wine, plummy berry, and soft.

2012 Brutocao Cabernet Sauvignon, Contento Vineyard, $24. Released in June last year, will not last until next release. Blackberry, bright lively acid, anise, oak.

Hoss and I got into a discussion of oak barrels, French and American, and eastern European, but what I noted most was Hoss’ animation, his Italian coming out, as his hands were flying in aid of his words.

2010 Brutocao Uber Tuscan, Hopland Ranches, $24. 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Cigar, deep red fruit, anise, raspberry, spice, herb. Terrific wine.

2009 Brutocao Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Bottled, $38. Lovely purple violet color. Floral noted fruit nose. Blackberry, currant, bright herb mouth. Integrated. Big. Hoss goes through all of his wines for a reserve release, and selecting the best barrel of varietal juice for his wine, as barrels unblended yield different wines. As an example, it took a week for Hoss to taste through his 68 barrels of 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.

2010 Brutocao (Zinfandel) Port, Mendocino, $24/375ml, $38/750 ml. Sweet plummy licorice and blackberry.

NV Brutocao Tawny Port, Estate Bottled, $26/500ml. Solera styled (a little of each vintage is reserved and blended into the next vintage, and so on with each vintage, until the wine you hold is a look back through many previous vintages as well as the current one) going back to 2010, with classic Portuguese grapes and a helping hand from Germain-Robin distillation.

Describing his winemaking influences, his philosophy, Hoss explained, “I’ve been in the vineyard since I was five years old. The taste in the vineyard should be the taste in the bottle.”
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In addition to his winemaking duties for Brutocao, Hoss is actively involved in the Coro Mendocino wine program, and is the winemaker blessed with marketing oversight. The Coro group have pulled back the curtain, inviting a wine writer to join the group for the collaborative blind tastings, in an effort to get the word about Coro out to the greater public. John Compisi is that writer, and his multi part series on Coro is being reposted online at my site, JohnOnWine.com, as well as John Compisi’s pages at Examiner.com.

The 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines will be poured at special multi course Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah on Wednesday March 18, 2015, and Crush Italian Steakhouse in Chico on Wednesday, April 15, 2015.

The 2012 vintage release dinner will be held in June, with the location moved from the Mendocino coast to San Francisco. I will be attending, and will write more about the dinner as we get closer.

For more information about Brutocao Cellars, visit brutocaocellars.com; to reserve seats for the Coro dinner at Crush, call 707.463.0700; and for more information about Coro Mendocino, read archived stories at JohnOnWine.com or visit coromendocino.com.

 

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